Asia Minute: Triangular Diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific

Dec 3, 2018

President Donald J. Trump participates in a trilateral meeting Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and India Prime Minister Narenda Modi at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Credit The White House / Flickr

The Group of Twenty meeting in Argentina wrapped up this weekend — generating a number of headlines. But there were also some smaller stories that may be significant in the long term. And that includes an unusual bit of diplomacy involving three countries.

Photo opportunities: often more about symbolism than substance. Sometimes they have both — like when the President of the United States appeared Friday with the Prime Ministers of Japan and India.

The tri-lateral meeting is the latest indication that India is being pulled more tightly into a circle of regional alliance headed by the United States and including Japan. It came six months to the day after the United States changed the name of its regional military headquarters based on Oahu from Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command.

At the time, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the change was “in recognition of the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.”

A week later, the three countries conducted joint naval exercises.

The United States and India first had those drills in 1992. For the past three years, they’ve included Japan.

Even without the United States, India and Japan have moved closer. Prime Minister Modi just completed his third visit to Japan as leader about a month ago. Abe has been to India three times as Prime Minister.

Credit Narendra Modi / Flickr

The two countries are negotiating a deal to allow each other’s navies access to refueling stations and ship maintenance facilities.

Unlike other parts of Asia, Japan has no history as a colonizer with India — while both countries share a wariness about China’s regional influence. A feeling that’s echoed in Washington.